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Seville Pictures presents
Kandahar (2001)

"I am an Afghan residing in Canada. I'm going to Kandahar to save my sister. She wants to commit suicide at the eclipse."
- Nafas (Nelofer Pazira)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: July 03, 2002

Stars: Nelofer Pazira
Other Stars: Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Manufacturer: CMC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, intense images)
Run Time: 01h:21m:47s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Kandahar, from director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is a truly remarkable, rare, and powerful film. It tells the story of Nafas, an Afghan refugee living in Canada, who receives a suicide letter from her sister, who still lives in Kandahar. She writes that she will kill herself at the eclipse, and Nafas decides to return to her homeland and save her sister's life. What follows is a harrowing journey through a country burdened by poverty, pain and a tyrannical ruling body. The movie was produced before September 11th of last year but, dare I say it, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are no more damning evidence against the Taliban than the atrocities committed against the Afghani people, brilliantly, poignantly illustrated in Kandahar.

It quickly becomes clear that this is not a film about Nafas' sister, but about the journey itself. The story is partially based on the life of Nelofer Pazira, a Canadian journalist and refugee herself, who traveled back to the region to search for a friend she feared was suicidal. Nafas quest illustrates more than anything the futility of human action in the face of extreme oppression. The events along the way are so wrenching, so bitter, that we becomes as hopeless as Nafas, convinced that even if the sister is saved, the effort will be meaningless—thousands more will still be suffering.

The film is full of unforgettable images, things that were largely unknown to the western world before 9/11. Some of them—the group of patients whose limbs were blown off by landmines hobbling across the desert as a UN plane drops prosthetics attached to parachutes—would be absurd if they weren't so powerfully disheartening. Others, like the crowds of women, mummified under bulky, anachronistic burkas, wandering in morose crowds across the desert; those same women reaching under their robes to apply makeup that no one will ever see—are somehow more disturbing, direct evidence of the collapse of the basic needs of humanity in the region—happiness, celebration, joy.

Nafas meets up with some interesting characters along the way. Kahk (Teymouri) is a young boy who has been kicked out of a Taliban school for not knowing the Koran. His fate is no doubt a life of crime and death, one that will probably lead him back to the Taliban and its promises of nirvana and honor. She visits a doctor (Tantai), who is only allowed to speak to her through a hole in a piece of canvas, as that is as close as an unmarried woman can come to a man without the protection of her burka. He hears her accent and realizes she's from North America; he is American as well, and has his own reasons for staying in the country.

Kandahar is not about telling a story or about good dialogue and developed characters. It's about putting a human face on suffering and making us question why we never noticed it before.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kandahar was shot on a low budget and with many documentary-style techniques. The image transfer reflects these facts, and looks very good anyway. The sun-bleached colors of the desert look very natural. Black level is good when needed, but most of the film is set in bright light, so it isn't a big issue. The image is pretty grainy, but it's a result of the film used, and the gritty feel is appropriate to a desert setting. I noted no artifacts or edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Farsino

Audio Transfer Review: The audio, presented in DD 2.0, is a bit of a mixed bag. The dialogue is in both English and Farsi with subtitles, and many of the English passages are very difficult to hear. Dialogue is recorded rather low in the mix, and it sounds muffled and occasionally strained. The ethic music of the soundtrack is produced with good fidelity, but it sometimes sounds a bit harsh when it reaches the upper octaves.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring In the Mood for Love, Lost and Delirious, Three Seasons
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actress Nelofer Pazira
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:54m:40s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still Gallery
  2. Text Interview with Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Extras Review: A film as rich as Kandahar demands revelatory extras, and Seville has put together a small but informative and all-around excellent package of bonus materials. Nelofer Pazira, the lead actress and partial inspiration for the film, offers a very engaging, personal commentary. She reveals just how personal the story is to her life, discusses her own life in Afghanistan, and talks about her experiences making the film. It's a fascinating track, revealing even more of the true story behind Kandahar.

Lifting the Veil is a 20-minute documentary from a Canadian TV station. Through interviews with Pazira and her family, and lots of news footage, the piece offers even more context for the film. Produced post-September 11th, it offers yet more information about the events that led up to the terrorist attacks. Particularly disturbing is when Pazira talks about her feelings of isolation once she moved to North America, where she felt everyone lived in their own little bubble, unaware of the people suffering in the rest of the world.

Two essays are included in the DVD booklet, one an interview with the director, another by Pazira. Both focus more on the making of the film and explaining its politically-charged messages. Cast and director bios offer information of the lives of the creative team behind the film. Rounding out the disc are a photo gallery, an international trailer, and clips for In the Mood for Love, Lost and Delirious, and Three Seasons.

As this is a Canadian-produced disc, the menus are offered in both French and English, and the disc loaded very slowly on my player.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Kandahar is a powerful film, filled with haunting images of human suffering. It's an undoubtedly important film, even more so now than when it was made in 2000. It's not a pleasant experience, watching this picture, but it is one that you owe it to yourself to see and feel.


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